Is my mind something that only I experience and that belongs only to me? This difficult question has been the basis of much philosophical research over the centuries.
In fact, René Descartes, one of the most influential thinkers in the birth of psychology as a science (although he died long before it appeared), took as his point of departure an idea closely related to this subject. . : the French philosopher supposed that the experience of our own mental activity is one of the only certainties of which we can be sure, since anything beyond it can deceive us by the senses: “I think, then I exist”. Our existence as conscious entities is something we never doubt.
However, something that is closely related to our consciousness with the emotions that we feel is mixed in with it: it is practically impossible to be conscious and at the same time not to feel at all; spontaneously, we value our state of mind, whether the sensations transmitted to us by our environment are good or bad, etc. And if we add that to that emotions cannot be reduced to words, it’s no surprise that many people see emotions as something totally private and subjective, or even independent of their body and anything earthly in general. How correct is this view of the human mind?
Two main positions on the body-mind relationship
There are many ways to understand the connection between the concept of emotions and the concept of the body.. Several can be grouped together in the philosophical perspective we call dualism: the idea that one thing is the human mind and another clearly different is the human body and all of its organic and material components in general.
This position, represented among other thinkers by Descartes, it shows the human being as a soul imprisoned in the material prison of its own organism. In fact, the French philosopher proposed that there exists in the human brain a structure, the pineal gland, from which the incorporeal being of each human being controls the “machine” of the body from the sensory information which reaches it. through the imperfect circuits of the latter.
Other philosophical positions opposed to dualism are included in philosophical monism, and more specifically in materialist monism (there is also non-materialist monism, but it has little influence today).
This point of view considers emotions and all psychological states in general to be a simple product of organic processes in the body, and that the fact that we experience subjectivity as something private and reserved exclusively for each person or is more than an illusion. What are the two most precise ways of understanding the human mind? While this topic is not yet completely closed and will not be resolved in a short article like the one you are reading, I would like to show you that both positions offer some truth.
Why are there emotions?
Can we say that emotions are a phenomenon completely disconnected from matter? Decades of research show us that it would be wrong to think in these terms. We must not forget that if philosophers like Descartes reserved for the human being a privileged position in the access to transcendence through the capacity to have a soul, it was in part through a series of religious dogmas. and anthropocentric very fashionable in its time; yet today we know that emotions are almost ubiquitous in the animal kingdom, and it has nothing to do with whether or not they have a soul. The truth is that beyond our subjective experience of the emotional, experiencing emotions has practical effects: they predispose us to behave in one way or another.
In addition, this predisposition is clearly reflected in our actions through behaviors that we activate in a more spontaneous and less premeditated way. What makes us emotional is our biological heritage, all of that a series of physiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms that we obtained from our ancestors because they were and are the key to survival.
This is why emotions almost always come before reason. Concretely, the brain structures such as the limbic system, closely related to parts of the ancestral nervous system and present in all vertebrates, are those which aim to allow us to feel in one way or another: in this way, we react quickly. in the face of danger, we learn from our mistakes and successes without having to stop and think a lot, and so on. If the brain is a machine for learning and for predicting possible future situations based on what has happened to us, emotions are the fuel of our motivation, which leads us to have reasons to progress and learn.
However, to assume that emotions are simply a consequence of brain activity is not fair either. We cannot equate emotions with hormones and neurotransmitters and other substances secreted by our body, among other things because they depend on the way we think and interact with the environment and with others. And language and the ability to think about our own mental states, called metacognition, are as natural a phenomenon in humans as the activation of neurons.
This is why understanding our moods, emotions and feelings is not an “artificial” or secondary process to the biological; it is an essential part of the human experience. To assume otherwise would be to consider that Homo sapiens should not exist, since we have evolved and prospered through the use of tools and systems of symbols and words that do not arise from specific body structures, but from the life in community.
Therefore, the relationship between mind and body in terms of emotions is as follows: because we have a body we cannot help but feel, and because we are human beings, where we can stop getting involved in understanding our “selves” and the nature of what we are feeling.
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- Morgane, PJ (February 2005). “A Review of Limbic Forebrain / Limbic Mesencephalon Systems and Networks.” Advances in neurobiology. 75 (2): 143-60.
- Panksepp, J. (2005). Affective neuroscience: the foundations of human and animal emotions. Oxford: University of Oxford. Hurry.
- Saavedra Torres, JS et al. (2015): Functional correlation of the limbic system with emotions, learning and memory. Morfolia, 7 (2).
- Watson, RA (2012). René Descartes. British Encyclopedia. British Encyclopedia Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.